People’s identities and ideologies explain their actions in respect of the Arab-Israeli conflict
The daily news reports of terror, the televised sound bites from devastated Palestinian towns and villages, Israeli shopping malls, markets, and buses, are about people and the conflict and passion generated by identity and ideology. Thinking about how people’s identities and ideologies explain their actions in respect of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Jerusalem Question yields some important conclusions.
One of my goals in “Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem” was to look again at individuals in leadership and follower roles in the context of their identities and ideologies.
What do the Palestinians desire in respect of the city? Why have successive Israeli leaders failed to come to agreement with them over the city’s sovereignty? Despite different stated policy positions, why is there so little apparent distinction between Israel’s Kadima, Likud and Labor parties when it comes down to the resolution of the problem?
Erik Erikson, the “father of identity studies,” has much to offer by way of explanation of the dynamics involved. His conceptualization of identity and ideology as essentially two sides of the same coin helps. But more importantly, he shows that identity is more malleable than we think and modification occurs across the entire human life span. Everyone can change and it is never too late to change.
There is hope for what seems the world’s most intractable problem.
Nothing in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been so contentious as the issue of Jerusalem
“The problem of Jerusalem is one of the most emotional and explosive issues in the world,” wrote Palestinian international jurist Henry Cattan in 1981.
In the same year, prominent Israeli novelist and commentator “Aleph Bet” Yehoshua noted that “in a period of violent religious renaissance [Jerusalem] is a dangerous political explosive which could give rise to an uncontrollable conflagration.”
Fourteen years later, Palestinian scholar Ghada Karmi commented that “nothing in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been so contentious as the issue of Jerusalem.”
And in 1999 the Israeli negotiator of the Oslo Agreements, Uri Savir, told me, “The issue of Jerusalem . . . can easily become a public explosion . . . not just between Palestinians and Israelis, but between the Arab world and Israel, between the Islamic world and the Jewish world.”
Explosive, contentious, capable of drawing in much of the world community—this is the pervasive nature of the problem. Illustrating this point, in 1999 two of the foremost actors in the Oslo peace process commented on Jerusalem as a final-settlement issue.
The Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council at the time, Ahmad Quray‘ (also known as Abu Ala’), explained that Jerusalem . . . is the head, the heart of the Palestinian state—the heart of the Palestinian identity. Without Jerusalem, I don’t think peace will be achieved. Therefore, this is the most important element of the peace process.
At the same time the then Speaker of the Knesset, Shimon Peres, said: Jerusalem may be the only issue on the Israeli position which escapes strategy and politics. This is the only place that has the aura of holiness. And the difference between politics and holiness is that when holiness begins, compromise stops.
Both statements reflect the language and underlying strength of identity and ideology as a nexus and invite consideration of the dynamic that seems to bring either stasis or momentum over the Jerusalem Question.
The Jerusalem Question is on the lips of, among others, Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians and Turks, to say nothing of “the Trio”—Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—and “the Quartet”—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia
Over the past century, not only have Palestinians and Zionists fought on Palestine’s terrain of battle, but so have Turks, British and Jordanians. Each has had reason to invest itself in the region.
Whether it was early-twentieth-century fading Ottoman imperial intent, energetic colonialism in the case of the British Mandate (1922–1948), the de facto division of land between Israel and Jordan under their 1948 armistice agreement, or Israeli retention of the territorial spoils of the 1967 war, each power has expressed aspects of its own identity and ideology vis-à-vis Palestine.
The Palestinians still seek to express their identity by establishing a state where international justice, recognition of their historic property claims and accommodation of some refugees’ right of return can be achieved. But their conflict with the Israelis has now become centered on one essential square kilometer—the Old City of Jerusalem—within which lie the ancient symbols and trophies of these now opposing identities.
Reserved for final-status negotiations, Jerusalem, with its core historical and religious elements, constitutes a potential deal-breaker. Outside the immediate Israeli-Palestinian orbit, the Jerusalem Question is on the lips of, among others, Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians and Turks, to say nothing of “the Trio”—Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—and “the Quartet”—the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
Medieval Christians placed the city at the center of their spiritual lives because the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches sanctified physical Jerusalem. As a result, and in the absence of geographic knowledge and appropriate technology, their maps showed Jerusalem at the center of the globe. A separate, earlier tradition also named it the omphalos, or navel, of the world, and yet another, the birthplace of the cosmos.
Mirroring these conceptions in some ways, the modern world seems to have returned to such images, and Jerusalem has become once more the center of the world’s attention
(to be continued).
The area is a magnet for many peoples, many religions, and many political and social persuasions. Because of this conflux of geography, history, and religious and cultural associations, Jerusalem is at its epicenter
The danger that the Arab-Israeli conflict, and specifically the Jerusalem Question, poses to the peace of the world in the twenty-first century is not new. What is today Israel and Palestine, on the narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan River, was once the crossroads of the ancient civilized world, the bridge between the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe.
As a result, it has been the battleground for imperial powers from ancient times till the present. It has also become, in succession, central to each of three dominant world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The area is a magnet for many peoples, many religions, and many political and social persuasions.
Because of this conflux of geography, history, and religious and cultural associations, the city at its epicenter is also an enduring lodestone. And like the region of which it is a part, Jerusalem has become a fuse of international conflict. The past 2,000-year history of the city alone reveals a complex international web of religious, diplomatic and political intrigue. Bitter and bloody conflict rent the city several times during the Roman imperial domination of the eastern Mediterranean basin.
The Crusader period (1099–1187) saw Jerusalem suffer untold bloodshed in the clash of Muslim and papal intentions. By the nineteenth century, the city had become the mirror of petty consular rivalries between European nation-states squabbling in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire.
The first two decades of the twentieth century found the city of peace at the center of immensely significant geopolitical considerations. The colonial powers of Britain and France vied over regional influence, control of the Suez route to the East, and the railways and pipelines across the Syrian Desert to the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
During the period of the British Mandate (1922–1948) Jerusalem was established as the administrative capital of Palestine. Following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war, the city was divided de facto between Jordanians and Israelis, crudely partitioned by no-man’s-land.
The June 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Knesset’s immediate annexation of the eastern side of the city, far from reuniting Jerusalem (as Israeli mythology would have it), created a vexatious problem for Israelis and Palestinians, and for every other nation that became embroiled in it. Unexpectedly, the early 1990s witnessed the single most dramatic breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations in almost fifty years.
The secretly negotiated 1993 Oslo Agreements seemed to hold the promise of resolution to one of the region’s most persistent problems and at the same time of bringing peace to Jerusalem. Yet despite thousands of hours of creative negotiations, signified by recognition of the peacemaking efforts by the world’s premier peace institute, the Jerusalem Question remained as problematic as ever.
As the twentieth century closed, Jerusalem's future was the publicly cited deal-breaker in attempts by the United States to resolve the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict. The city itself had become the new symbol of the intractability of the more-than-100-year-old Arab-Zionist impasse (to be continued).
Conflicting passions invite the luxury of lazy generalizations
Part of the reason, they learn, is that for thousands of years the people of the
For example, the apparent intractability of the
The contemporary heart of the region’s great geographic and cultural arc is the center of the more-than-100-year conflict between the Arabs and the Zionists. Henry Kissinger has characterized the conflict as an anachronism—a seventeenth-century-style religious war three hundred years too late.